"Listen to this," he told Argus and Jenna. "I had ORAC monitor any unusual Federation communications traffic." He put ORAC down on a table and turned on the transmitter he produced from his pocket. "ORAC, repeat what you just told me."
"Next time take notes. Repeating the same information is a waste of my time."
"Very well. But I protest," the computer complained but did as ordered. "There has been increased Federation communications traffic since you departed Earth to retrieve me at Gauda Prime. Without access to a cipher machine, it has proven difficult to decode the majority of messages, but with persistence, I was able to break several of the lower level codes."
"Stop congratulating yourself ORAC and get to the point." Avon had little patience with computers that did not act like computers.
"There are no specific details but there has been a major operation by Federation Central Security forces, concentrated on the rebel group based in the West Europe Dome. Reports indicate that the group has been neutralized; over ninety percent of the rebels have been killed or captured. Several off-world groups have also been targeted."
Jenna cried out, "No!"
Vila's face went pale.
Argus's face was hard and impenetrable.
Their whole world had just turned upside-down, instead of being at the vanguard of a successful rebel force; they were now alone and on the run, the fate of their friends uncertain at best.
"We have to find out what happened, find out if anyone survived. We need to get back to Earth." Jenna told them.
"It's too dangerous Jenna; we don't know what's happened. We should lie low for now and gather information," Avon was ever the cautious voice of reason.
"Avon is right. We cannot go in without knowing all the facts. Going back now, blind, would be to play into their hands. One of the Security Forces favorite tactics is to leave a few of the enemy untouched and use them as bait. They will be waiting for us and now that we have ORAC and the DSV, they have even greater incentive."
Avon looked at the rebel leader with interest, though it did not show on his face. His first impression of the man was that he was an idealist like Blake. The second was that of an arrogant Federation military command thug who liked ordering others about, not unlike Tarrant, but not quite so young and brash. But there were other interesting differences.
This man might actually think before he acts. That would be a refreshing change.
"So we're going to do nothing?" Jenna accused.
"Not nothing. We will continue with our original plan and complete Avon's anti-detector screen. ORAC can initiate secure contact with one of the off-world groups which were not affiliated with us, using their Earth-based contacts we can find out more information before we decide what can be done."
Avon was on the flight deck working on the anti-detector screen, he was tired and alone. Vila was busy taking inventory in the parts storeroom, or more likely sleeping. He had been at it several days now and was still not done. Jenna and Argus were resting in their cabins.
Avon stretched to ease the tension in his back; the old familiar back pains were a constant irritation. These days he did not sleep much, sleep always brought nightmares; working helped keep the demons away. He was also still experiencing chronic pain from the injuries inflicted during his year of being a guest of the Federation Special Detention Centre. It would take months of rehabilitation to regain full strength and mobility but he didn't have time for that now, there was too much work left to be done to make the ship secure from the Federation. He had an idea for a new defensive system.
Avon had just finished receiving a general report from ORAC on Federation communications traffic and was in the process of setting up a few private security precautions, when ORAC piped up interrupting him, "I am receiving a pre-recorded message."
"Which group is it from?"
"It is not in response to the message sent to the rebel groups."
"Where is it from? Who is it from?"
"It is employing the same carrier wave used to send the trigger to activate Blake's conditioning three years ago. You had me monitor the channel to prevent use of such methods in future. It carries a viz portion."
"Is there any indication the sender is aware of our location."
"There is no indication."
"Initiate security message protocols and direct the message to my flight console."
"Avon", the message began, the familiar voice filled him with hatred. Servalan.
"A friend of yours wants to see you; I believe her name is Cally."
Cally? What are you up to Servalan? Cally is dead. She died in your trap on Terminal. I saw her body myself.
The message continued, "Did you know that Aurons are able to suspend their body functions when they are close to death? They call it a death-sleep. It virtually shuts down all regular functions so that the body can concentrate on healing itself, unless you know what to look for, they have all the symptoms of death."
Servalan told lies as easily as breathing but her lies always had a purpose and never were as blatantly obvious as this.
Who are you trying to fool Servalan?
An image appeared on his console. It was Cally; she was wearing familiar grey prison coveralls.
He admired the detail. Your lies were always elaborate and imaginative, especially when trying to trap me.
The message continued, "You once told Cally that regret was a part of being alive but to keep it a small part. How small a part will you be able to keep it if Cally dies because of you, just like Blake?"
How does she know that?
There was only one possibility, one improbable possibility. Cally was alive. No one else knew of their conversation regarding regret.
His mind went back to that day.
Cally had been depressed since the destruction of her home planet and had shut herself in her cabin aboard the Liberator. He had buzzed at her cabin and received no reply.
"Cally," he called out her name.
"What is it?" Cally replied, her voice muffled by the door.
"Well, it looks like a door. And it's closed."
There was a pause and then the door swished open.
"Zen's fixed the orbit of the mineral asteroid that Tarrant was talking about. We have half an hour to decide if we go after it.
"Why not? It's something else to chase," the despondency in her voice was evident.
Ever the observant analyst, he saw a piece of paper hastily discarded on her desk and picked it up, it was a landscape drawing.
Noticing his actions, she replied, "A sketch of a place I used to know."
"Auron." He understood.
"Yes, Auron. And it's pointless to think about it. I'll never see it again."
"That's why you've been shut in here for ten hours? Thinking about Auron and how you'll never see it again?"
"I wish I could promise you that the sparkling company on the flight deck would take you out of yourself."
She smiled ruefully, "I'm all right."
"No, you're not," in a rare gesture of humanity, he rested his hand on her arm. "But you will be. Regret is part of being alive. But keep it a small part."
"As you do?" Besides Blake, Cally was the only one who understood what went on inside the darkness which was his soul.
He smiled, an ironic self-mocking smile, "Demonstrably."
Cally smiled too, patted him on the chest and exited. Avon put the paper down and followed her out.
The memory now stung. It was later that day that they all discovered how deeply she had cared for him. When an alien entity took her over and hurt the others, she had not reacted but when it targeted Avon, she fought back. And he had left her to die on Terminal, unintentionally. It was another mistake, to regret.
What do you want Servalan? I will not give you ORAC or the DSV, or any of those things you tried to get from me when I was still your prisoner. Not even for Cally.
"What do I want?" the audio Servalan continued as if in response to his unspoken question. "I want you to exchange yourself for Cally. Your freedom for her life. A straight trade. You can set the conditions, the time and the place."
Not this game again Servalan. He was perplexed, for all of Servalan's faults, repeating herself was not one of them.
Last time she had lured him with promises of trading a live Blake for the Liberator but it had all been lies. The Blake she promised him had been an illusion, a drug-induced and electronic vision fed into his brain. Knowing Servalan, he had come expecting a trap and made plans. Things had not worked out though, for any of them, no one ended up with the Liberator. It had been destroyed and he accepted full responsibility.
But regardless of the outcome then, he had never intended on giving her the Liberator, she must know that this time would be no different.
What is she up to? Servalan never did anything which did not have some benefit to herself. In this respect, the two of them were very much alike.
This time will be different. His mind was already planning.
The last time, he had not succeeded in protecting the Liberator. This time he would make sure; this time he knew that Cally was real. He was not dependent on tenuous forensic verification from ORAC which could be faked. And this time, Servalan would die.
Servalan was right when she had stated years ago that he was not the sacrificial type, but he did play the odds. After a year under her ‘hospitality', his desire for a chance to kill her had become so overwhelming that it increased his tolerance for a much reduced set of odds.
He had ORAC send a coded reply along the same carrier wave and began planning a few surprises for his deadly enemy; but something nagged at him.
It may be that I'm missing the point entirely. In which case, playing this game with her would be a terrible mistake and it would be best that I just let Cally die.
He could not fathom what Servalan's goal could possibly be. Other than ORAC and the new Deep Space Vehicle, what else could be worth her efforts? Without further data, he had to proceed under the assumption that her goals had not changed, and he could not allow her to achieve those goals.